California subsidies for dairy cows’ biogas are a lose-lose, campaigners say

Michael Sainato, THE GUARDIAN

The state pumps millions into methane produced by manure – but advocates argue it increases greenhouse gas emissions and encourages factory farming

A coalition of climate, environmental and animal welfare groups is calling for California to remove the huge subsidies provided to dairy farms to turn animal waste into a form of energy called biogas.

Manure, which emits the potent greenhouse gas methane, is a big problem for US farms, and is particularly stark in California, where the dairy industry accounts for nearly half the state’s methane emissions.

Since 2011, California has been running a policy called the low carbon fuel standard (LCFS), which now includes incentives for dairy farms to convert methane into energy to fuel vehicles by enabling them to sell offset credits. This is intended to be a win-win: reducing farm emissions while allowing fossil fuel companies to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions by buying these offsets. The number of anaerobic digesters used to produce the biogas has surged in the state especially among large dairy farms.

But environmental advocates argue that the environmental benefits of biogas are exaggerated, and that the LCFS encourages the expansion of factory farms and could end up increasing emissions and pollution.

In a petition to the California Air Resources Board (Carb), the state government’s clean air agency that runs the LCFS, six environmental groups called for dairy farms to be excluded from the policy. In January, Carb turned down the request but said it would continue to engage with the petitioners.